Federal funds sought for work along
By Sheryl DeVore
Published November 11th, 2004
John King remembers standing on a Wilmette beach a year
ago talking about the possibility that Illinois, after
years of ignoring its chance to get about $2 million annual
federal funds to help protect its Lake Michigan shoreline,
might finally get that money.
If the program gets approved, "Is the public going
to be able to walk on my beach?" one resident wanted
That kind of thinking, especially by a longtime wealthy
Winnetka resident, W. Clement Stone, who died in 2002,
is what kept Illinois from participating in the federal
coastal management program, which began in 1972.
Because it didn't participate, Illinois lost out on nearly
$60 million over those 32 years, said King, chief of the
coastal programs division of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration from where the funds come.
But now the tides have turned.
Last week Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich put in motion
what local politicians and grass-roots movements have
been pushing for years. He sent a letter to the federal
government requesting funds to repair, protect and provide
greater public access to 63 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline
from south of Chicago north through Evanston, Wilmette,
Highland Park and Lake Forest all the way up to Zion.
Illinois is the last of 35 eligible states and territories
to apply for the funds made available through the Coastal
Zone Management Act of 1972.
"Every single community along the lakefront in Illinois
will benefit from this program," said Cameron Davis,
executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation, which
has long pushed for the state to request these funds.
"This program will make a night and day difference
on the Illinois lakefront. We have had a record number
of beach closings, caused from sewage runoff, pollution
and other sources," Davis said.
Glencoe, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest and Wilmette and other
North Shore towns have had record numbers of beach closings
because of pollution in the past few summers. This program
could help reduce beach closings as well as erosion and
also improve habitat for wildlife such as migratory birds
and fish, Davis said.
For those worried about their private property, King
said, "Public access is one of the goals of the coastal
management program. Invading private property is not one
of our goals."
Public hearings and meetings among community leaders,
grass-roots movement leaders, the state and the federal
government will help create a program within the next
year or two, and then the program can begin, King said.
For Evanston, that could mean funding for a comprehensive
lakefront plan, which the town desperately needs, Davis
sad. And it could mean better access to the lake for the
disabled as well as funding to keep beaches open during
the week, he said.
For Highland Park, Glencoe and Lake Forest with bluffs
along the lake, the program could help reduce erosion.
For Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, critical habitat
for the federally endangered piping plover could be saved.
State Sen. Susan Garrett, D-29th, of Lake Forest, and
State Rep. Karen May, D-58th, of Highland Park expressed
optimism this week that the federal funds will help local
communities do what they know needs to be done to protect
Garrett, who has secured studies and funding to find
out why high bacteria counts have closed many North Shore
beaches the past few years, suggests some of the money
be spent on studying ravines.
Recent studies have shown that bacteria levels have been
high in Lake Michigan (enough to ban swimming in many
North Shore towns) because of seagull and human feces
as well as contaminated sand and sewage treatment discharge
during storms and electrical outages. The situation is
further complicated by wind speed and wind direction.
But ravines could also be culprits as sewage, garbage
and other pollution from the top of the ravines flows
down bluffs and into Lake Michigan.
Garrett wants to assess ravines throughout the North
Shore area including those in Lake Bluff, Lake Forest,
Glencoe, Winnetka, Highland Park and Fort Sheridan to
see how much they are contributing to pollution in the
"The coastal program will allow us to access grants
to help cover the cost and repair of the ravines,"
Erosion is another big problem, one which homeowners
from Highland Park, Wilmette and other towns have been
"This program will mean our lakefront has a level
of protection from erosion," said May, who worked
with State Rep. Harry Osterman, D-14th, of Chicago and
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to bring this program to Blagojevich's
"It will protect the bluffs and beaches. The lakefront
is a real jewel," said May.
May's constituents are enlightened about lakefront needs,
she said. They have been studying ravine issues for a
long time, but they just don't have the money to do all
that's needed, she said.
Donnie Dann, a member of the Highland Park Lakefront
Commission, agreed. He and his wife Jackie live on a bluff
overlooking Lake Michigan in Highland Park. They worry
about rising water levels and high wave action damaging
the bluff and their property, and have installed large
boulders to reduce the erosion.
A couple from Wilmette worked to curb erosion on their
lakefront property, Davis said. They planted dunes-type
vegetation, which helped the erosion as well as offered
some habitat for migratory birds.
Dann welcomes funding that will help his private landowners
as well as public natural areas on the North Shore curb
erosion and protect the lake. "We need to deal with
water quality, sewage discharge overflow, high bacteria
counts -- all that can be done now with these funds,"
Wisconsin, which has been involved in the program for
26 years, offers an example of how far Illinois can go
with these funds as the years pass.
With this federal money, "We leverage other sources
of funds to produce great projects," said Michael
Friis, manager of Wisconsin's coastal management program.
Wisconsin leveraged $3 million in grants last year alone,
he said. Projects have included restoring a stream along
Lake Superior that was polluted by oil-contaminated sediment
and producing an educational book, "Paddle to the
Sea," which was distributed to every grade school
in the state, he said. "It's to give children an
awareness of coastal resources."
When asked his thoughts on Illinois being the last state
to seek these funds, he said. "This adds a greater
voice when all Great Lakes states are speaking together.
Davis said Illinois has finally joined the coalition
because "private lakefront property owners now understand
a clean lake helps their property values. "And,"
he added, "It's right thing to do."
"There's more civic involvement and a call for improving
the lakefront than ever before," he added. Indeed,
hundreds of Lake Michigan Federation volunteers in the
Adopt-A-Beach program clean the lake shore in Chicago
and the North Shore communities.
"Officials realize a vibrant shoreline is good for
their communities," Davis said. "We have some
real leaders who want to see this happen. We are starved
for funding to do important projects to help the lake
shoreline. We can no longer take a pass on the $60 million
we could have had since the program began."